Despite hearing more and more about national vocational qualifications, it seems that many people still do not quite understand what they are. This is hardly surprising. With its plentiful jargon and sometimes involved descriptions of assessment procedures, much of the official literature on the qualification can scarcely be described as customer-friendly. But help is at hand.
So says Rob Arntsen, manager at IBM UK New Markets Division. Having spent the past year supervising the development of CD-Roms designed specifically for NVQs, he talks enthusiastically of their likely benefits for employers, students and course deliverers.
One of the main purposes of the project was to clarify the whole NVQ process, he explains. "Our intention was to demystify NVQ, as well as to give students a more holistic view of what gaining the qualification involves. Another of our main goals was to help candidates and assessors avoid having to go through the lengthy and time-consuming catechism of NVQ."
The outcome is Introduction to NVQs, a colourful, interactive CD-Rom which guides newcomers around the qualification. Helped by a jolly mascot named Turbo, users click on icons, answer questions and watch video clips that explain the structure and basic intentions of NVQ in straightforward style.
Rob Arntsen is confident of the CD-Rom's success. "Field trials indicate that employers are particularly enthusiastic about the consistency of the message, " he says. "And students, even adult returners, like the presentation - they're not at all put off by the technology. The Introduction not only takes problems of explanation out of teaching, but also problems of access. Whether the teacher is there or not, you get the same message, and the same quality, every time."
IBM have also produced a three-disk set devoted to NVQ level 3 in customer service. This ingenious, attractive package enables students to relate specific elements within any one of several video clips to the relevant performance criteria.
This done, students are invited to describe their own experiences at work. These accounts then form the basis for their own case studies, for any appropriate section of which they can claim competence by dragging the relevant range statement next to their text.
Again, the dual emphasis is on appropriateness and ease of use. Students are guided through any of the relevant processes, and, for those who still find the whole business a little obscure, "help statements" - that is, plain language accounts of specific procedures - are offered.
However versatile, the technology still leaves users with plenty to do. As yet, students cannot gain accreditation through the package, though such possibilities have been discussed.
Between them, NVQ and IBM look set to change the whole nature of learning and assessment.